James Madison is a team that has made a name for themselves by doing little with a lot. Their four guard, spread the floor line is effective since it’s loaded with talent, headlined by senior guard Stuckey Mosley. It was clear that the Drexel game plan was to get after the JMU “Big three” guards of Mosley, Darius Banks and Matt Lewis. That game plan was effective. Those three combined for just 32 points on 28 shots, while turning the ball over ten times. Unfortunately for Drexel, the gameplan didn’t prepare them for their biggest problem. Themselves.
“We didn’t play as well as we should have, and we had too many self-inflicted wounds” said Coach Spiker after the game, which didn’t hit the nail on the head so much as it smashed it. 23% of the last place Dukes points came either on the fast break, or on second chance buckets. Drexel didn’t have a fast break point in the contest, despite 15 JMU turnovers, which speaks more towards the type of turnovers that each team had rather than the speed of the Drexel guards. In a game that Drexel ended up losing by two, it was lack of hustle in defensive transition, sloppy passes and poor shot selection that was the death knell. Nothing that JMU did in the half court at either end made them look like the better team.
Anytime that Troy Harper (2-15 from the field) has more three point attempts than Trevor John, the Drexel offense isn’t running right. Couple that with simply handing it to the opponents for pick six style layups, and you have a team that doesn’t deserve to win. And it’s a shame because the Dragons were the better team here. Alihan Demir could go to the basket all day against the fourth JMU guard, a mismatch the Drexel staff has happy to exploit all night long to the tune of 23 points. James Butler held his own with Dwight Wilson, despite what the box score says as well. Most of Wilson’s damage came when Butler or Perry rolled off him to help with guard penetration, and the defensive rotation either wasn’t fast enough to get there and box out, or simply couldn’t handle Wilson’s size and strength. So while DU handled the size of James Madison OK, and handled the guards well defensively, they still lost due to their own perimeter slop.
Zach Spiker is a player friendly coach who wants to inspire his guys and will have their back to the end, especially in the public eye. But his comments after last weekends loss to Charleston, talking about being frustrated by the turnovers, leaves one wondering what that team practiced this week. Although the turnover count went down on Thursday night, the bad, non-aggressive turnovers were once again the Dragons kryptonite. It harkens back to the staff talking about how defense was a point of emphasis in the offseason, the entering this offseason with one of the worst defenses in the entire country. It just seems that at times this team needs to fail twice before it learns. While that bodes well for the upcoming big matchup on Saturday, it likely ended the Dragons chances to finish in the top half of the conference on Thursday.
In the long term, the Dragons were predicted to be a ninth place team that then lost both of their projected top two scorers for most of the season. There’s no shame in a team like that fighting for 6th place. And in the long term, Coach Spiker’s players first strategy likely pays off when it comes to recruiting, building culture and hopefully on court success. But for tonight, I wish he had gone old school Bruiser Flint and woken his guys up.
With Towson and UNCW both losing, the Dragons sit sixth in the conference with four games to play. The difference between sixth and seventh is huge – the sixth place team gets a bye when the calendar hits March and the team plays in the conference tourney in Charleston. Tied in the loss column with Towson, their game on Saturday could very well be for that sixth spot. Coming off of back to back largely self inflicted losses and playing a physical Towson team that just came off a Double OT contest on short rest, the Dragons quite simply need this one. They should be the more talented team. They should be the better coached team. If that is true, it’s high time that they prove it.